Many of my friends have no idea how hard it can be to get a book published. Well let me tell you. It’s fun! Here’s a peek at what happens after an unpublished writer (I’ve published nonfiction, not fiction) finishes a manuscript. And by the way, a novel isn’t finished until it’s published or someone pries it out of her cold, dead hands, whichever comes first. Most writers continue to make changes as long as they possibly can.
So it’s that time again—time to pitch! After dragging my feet for the better part of three years, six if I’m being honest, twelve if I’m being really honest, I’ve finally finished my young adult novel, Fight Like a Girl. Even though my confidence is tucked away in a drawer under the weight of a completed, unpublished novel (not for lack of trying) and three unfinished novels, this one will be released to the world, one way or another.
So, how will I approach this task? Sorry. I mean, how will I approach this opportunity?
The path to traditional publishing is a narrow one, but it’s a worthy goal. I’ll begin by querying literary agents who represent the type of book I’ve written—contemporary, realistic, young adult fiction. I’m getting current information from several sources. Among them are:
- The Publishers Marketplace website: https://www.publishersmarketplace.com
- Blogs that include interviews with literary agents
- Literary agency websites
- Word of mouth/referrals
- Writers conferences
I’ll send out queries—usually a query letter and the first five to ten pages of the manuscript pasted in the body of an email—until I think it’s time to stop. I have a magic number in mind that will tell me when I’ve exhausted that option. It’s a pretty high number. If I receive no offers of representation, I’ll move on to the next step.
Self-publishing. It’s not that I see self-publishing as a second choice. I don’t. It’s just that it scares me, and it’s not as easy as many people think. I have images in my head of the early days when writers drove up and down the west coast making cold calls to bookstores with a trunk full of books. After selling a hundred copies, maybe, the remaining books lived in dusty, moldy boxes in the garage. Of course some of those writers had great success, but many didn’t.
I realize things are different now. Information abounds. I’ve read books, articles on websites, personal blogs, taken classes in self publishing, attended sessions at writers’ conferences, and learned by working alongside industry professionals. Even though I’ve learned a lot, I’d probably have to hire someone to help with the process. $$$$
I realize there is a middle ground that includes boutique and “Indie” publishers, but that will take another round of research. I’m open to suggestions. This is not necessarily my third option. It’s just the one I know the least about.
For those of you who aren’t in the publishing world, here are some things I’m working on:
- The final (at least my 20th) draft of my novel is with my beta reader, so it’s probably not my final draft. She’s a well-read, thoughtful, intelligent reader, so I can’t wait to hear what she has to say. I’m also using a fellow writer as a beta reader, and I’ll ask a third person if I think it’s necessary. It’s important to use both writers and non-writers as beta readers, and asking family members isn’t a great idea. I won’t use more than three beta readers for this novel. Too many voices live in my already noisy head.
- Query letter: You can read mine at the bottom of the page if you’re interested.
- Log line: What is a log line? It’s a summary of a novel (or screenplay or movie) that includes setting, protagonist, problem, antagonist, conflict, and goal. In 25 words or less. ROTFL. I could probably fly before I could write a log line using only 25 words. Right now my log line word count is 56. Working on it.
- Elevator pitch: For those not in the biz, imagine you’re in an elevator and your dream literary agent steps in. You have three floors in which to politely introduce yourself, ask if she’s willing to hear about your manuscript, and then tell her about it before the two of you part 30 seconds later.
- Synopsis: A 500- to 600-word summary of your story. The hardest thing to write in the entire world.
Do I expect success? At this jaded point in my writing life, I wouldn’t exactly say I expect it, but I certainly hope for it. And if I self publish and only sell a hundred copies, I won’t consider myself a failure. Instead, I’ll know I did a very hard thing. I wrote a book and a hundred of my friends were lovely enough to buy it.
In the meantime, I’m beginning my next novel—The Prison Man’s House. It’s going to be SO MUCH FUN! The real prison man’s house is in Lubbock, Texas, and it’s an urban legend that just might be true. When I saw the house and the rock pile in the back yard during my freshman year at Texas Tech University, I became a believer. I’ve never been able to find out the real story, so I’m relocating the house to my hometown of Irving, Texas, and making one up. Gleefully rubbing my hands in anticipation!
Beginnings and endings. There’s something so special about each.
My query letter:
Dear Ms. Literatus,
(I will personalize the letter with a mention of where I met her or why I think my manuscript will be a good fit for her. Research is very important.)
I’m seeking representation for Fight Like a Girl, a contemporary, realistic young adult novel set in the small Texas town. The novel’s subject matter, in part about the difficulty of revealing abuse, is relevant to the events surrounding the “Me Too” movement. It is complete at 69,000 words.
When fifteen-year-old Starleen Nickel kills her father in order to save her brother’s life, she considers herself to be a murderer rather than a hero. She feels shame for “allowing” her father’s abuse to escalate to the point where she was forced to kill, even though her past attempts at revealing the truth only made things worse.
Terrified of going to jail, Starleen leaves her younger siblings in the care of a neighbor and flees to Bluebonnet, Texas, to find the grandmother she’s never met. While she’s trying to determine if her grandmother can provide a safe home for her brothers and sister, she lies about her past. Things get complicated when she meets Reid, a boy her age who keeps her off balance. When Starleen discovers he’s a suspected rapist, she becomes frustrated that none of his victims have gone to the police. Can the girl who was too traumatized to reveal the truth about her own abuse find the courage to speak up and end the cycle?
I have a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, as well as a master’s degree in counseling and family therapy. I served as the children’s and young adult editor for the literary magazine, Soundings Review, and I’m a member of SCBWI.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. This book will appeal to readers of Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen. (I might add another comp title or include none at all.)
Martha Kay Salinas